Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Healing Grace of California Poppy

Below is my final assignment for Angie Goodloe's Herbalist 101 course.  Be warned, it's lengthy!  But there's a surprise at the end.  If you have any interest in herbalism, I highly recommend Angie's course.  It's full of information, provides plenty of opportunity for you to get intimate with herbs and make those medicines.  And  Angie provides plenty of feedback and encouragement in her responses to the assignments. Fun stuff!

Also, Angie is currently offering the course at an absurdly low price ($35!).  I assure you, the course is worth far, far more than that!
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Alternate names: Copa de ora, Dormidera (the Drowsy One, since this 'sun-worshipping flower' closes its blooms at night)

Family: Papaveraceae  
Patterns of the Poppy family are showy flowers with 2-3 sepals that shed early, petals in multiples of four, lots of stamens.  They often have milky sap in their stems.  Many plants in this family contain narcotic alkaloids.  Narcotics depress the central nervous system, sedating and offering relief from the feeling of pain (analgesic). [I'm noting Family characteristics in anticipation of work I'm doing with the Kamana Naturalist Training Program.  Currently in that program I'm journaling Plants, which will soon include detailing all the native plant families of my area.]

With that "Family background" in mind, let's explore this beautiful herb ...

The state flower of California, California Poppy is aptly chosen for this honor.    For countless generations the native peoples of California carefully cultivated this plant--as they did with many others--for food and medicine in monocropped expanses on hillside and in valleys.  European settlers thought they had arrived in untouched wilderness.  Not so.  The native peoples practiced sustainable harvesting and sowing that involved controlled burns as part of their land management.

It is said that north of Pasadena early Spanish sailors guided by a golden hillside in spring -- a hillside shining with the bright orange-gold of the California Poppy.  It is also said that this was one reason they dubbed this coast "the Land of Fire" (the other reason being that there were indeed fires a-plenty due to lightning strikes as well as due to the dry, arid summers).
The Yuki tribe used it for toothaches, it was food for the Sierra Miwoks, the Ohlone used it for sleep, the Wintu used it to heal newborn baby belly buttons
The Nisenan ate the leaves either boiled or roasted with hot stones and then laid in water.  The Pomo mashed the seedpod or a decoction of it on a nursing mother's breast to dry up her milk.  And the plant was given to babies as a sedative and placed under the bed for better sleep.  Other tribes rubbed a decoction of the flowers into the hair to kill lice.  The root juice was taken to relieve stomachaches and tuberculosis, and as a wash for weeping sores.

The plant itself: is a perennial or annual (further north) to 2 ft. tall with mostly basal with bluish-green lacelike leaves.  When I lived in the Pacific Northwest, the plant was an annual.  Here in my backyard in the San Francisco Bay Area, the plant is definitely a perennial.  The plant in these photographs is one that has been thriving since our arrival here last June. 

The flowers sit atop a flattened rim on long stalks.  The flowers are of four shiny petals bright orange to yellow in color, sepals fused into cap, and falling off when it flowers.  Many stamens.  The fruit is long and slender, containing many black seeds.   It's so satisfying to collect the seeds!   Just pluck off the dried pods and pop them into an envelope.  The plant flowers from February through November.

The plant is found in grasslands, hillsides, and open areas, in well-drained and poor soil, from Southern California up through Washington.

In terms of modern-day herbalism California Poppy has these characteristics.

Taste: Bitter
Energy: Cool
Organs affected: Liver, Heart
Actions (according to Lesley Tierra): calm the Spirit (I most definitely agree!)
Properties: Sedative, analgesic, anti-diarrheal, antitussove. diaphoretic, antispasmodic 

Indications: anxiety, nervous tension, agitation, neuralgia, pain relief (including acute), nervousness, sciatica, herbes, shingles, heart palpitations, insomnia

Dose: rounded teaspoon of chopped plant as tea, drink 1-3 times daily; fresh plant tincture: 20-60 drops 1-4 times daily.  For sleep problems, take 20-40 drops one hour before sleep, then again right before bedtime.  For bedwetting in children over 5 years old, use with horsetail, 10 drops of each twice/day.

A mild sedative and analgesic, this plant is suitable even for children, though may cause a mild 'hangover' headache the next morning if used in excessive quantities.   Lesley Tierra writes: "California poppy wonderfully sedates, calms and relaxes the nervous system, treating symptoms of anxiety, nervous tension and agitation.  As well, it repairs nerves and alleviates nerve pain, especially from sciatica, herpes and shingles.  It is also used for heart palpitations and insomnia due to nervousness.

Contraindications: large amounts used sometimes cause nausia. Better not to use it during pregnancy.

Collecting: Gather the whole above ground plant and dry it.  Or tincture the whole fresh plant.  When I tinctured California Poppy in the past, I used the whole plant, including the roots.

My Own Experience With California Poppy:
Moving to the Pacific Northwest 12 years ago (from the SF Bay Area) I was overjoyed to discover that California Poppy lived up there.  For me, California Poppy has always represented the spirit qualities of joyfulness and home.  My spirits lift at the sight of this plant in bloom, and I marvel at the softness and lacy beauty of the leaves.  But this plant is no fragile beauty.  There is a boisterousness of spirit that seems to me to announce itself in celebration to the world at large -- to the bees and insects, the natural world, and definitely to us humans!  As plant spirit medicine I have turned to California Poppy whenever I have sought a sense of  'home' within my anxious heart, and the promise of a lively grace that can exist and persist even in the face of inevitable hardships and pain.  I'll sit with the plant, touch its velvety petals or soft foliage, or nibble its leaves or petals.  Just being with this plant opens something true, kind, and strong within me.

More along these lines: When I became a Reiki Master, I intuitively received a series of symbols -- conduits for particular healing energy.  One of them I have come to associate with California Poppy, and this I use in spirit healing whenever I feel that California Poppy's qualities are needed.

A few years ago, my friend Lisa and I gathered the whole plant garden and tinctured it in vodka.  The tincture rapidly became our favorite remedy for sleeplessness due to nervous tension.  I believe Lisa used it with her family successfully to ease tooth pain.  Certainly I would use it for that purpose!  It is my remedy of choice when nervous anxiety is mixed with a need for (physical) pain relief.  

Last year, during our family's transition, I felt my mind returning to nervous anxiety that began again to interfere with my sleep.  The previous year I'd had a long stretch of this, and it was certainly hard to function coherently and in a grounded way at that time!  I pulled out my California Poppy tincture and began to take it at bedtime.  Just a couple nights of this routine and I was able to resume a more restful sleep pattern. 

Here in early spring, new poppy plants are emerging  in our vegetable garden.  The sturdy plant in the photos and in the video below, continues to thrive.  We are astonished by this particular plant, as it was accidently stepped on when we were digging our garden last year.  Somehow -- perhaps because of the love and attention my daughters have lavished upon it since then -- it recovered and has become the bold beauty of the garden.

Below is a video of  the California Poppy.  In it, I listen for a 'medicine song' and infuse it with Reiki.  As you listen to the song, may you experience the healing qualities of this plant!

Thomas Elpel, Botany In A Day
M. Kat Anderson, Tending The Wild: Native American Knowledge And The Management Of California's Natural Resources
Steven Foster and Christopher Hobbs, Western Medicinal Plants And Herbs (Peterson Field Guide)
Herbalpedia 2007
Lesley Tierra, Healing With The Herbs Of Life
Michael Moore, Medicinal Plants Of The Mountain West
Matthew Wood, The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide To New World Medicinal Plants.

Art by me of California Poppy (with Plantain and grasses in the foreground)


Dubious said...

I must confess: I am a poppy-cap plucker. I enjoy freeing their flaming petals from the dried caps that appear to me a little too taut for comfort (but clearly I have some guilt about this, wondering whether my human intervention may somehow hurt the plant).

Thank you for your full description and depictions of poppies! I loved them all.

Angie Goodloe LMT, Herbalist said...

Amazing Jane! And thank you so much for mentioning the course!
I found California Poppy to be an excellent ally in a time of transition for me as well. It has a subtle action, I was expecting it to help me with my anxiety induced insomnia, but it did so much more... while I was using it at night for sleep issues, I found that it helped tremendously during the day in drop doses (about 5 drops or so) for general anxiety- to help me transition through some tough times I was experiencing (really a time for growth and change emotionally- while manageable, it can be really challenging!) The plants outward appearance (its bright orange petals and soft fern like leaves) really reflects on its overall benefits doesn’t it- a gentle yet noticeable remedy!

Thank you for the wonderful write-up on California poppy!

Jane said...

Chris -- I laugh when I read about you plucking those 'gnome caps' off the poppy petals. I'm sure they don't mind :-)

Angie, thanks for detailing your experiences with using Poppy. I wish I'd thought to take small doses during the day during those rough, transition times. I'm sure that would have helped. But I'm sure there will be a "next time" ...!

Cyn C said...

Just planted for the first time this year along with chamomile, purslane, borage, and calendula for my edible medicinal flowers. As of this morning, my one plant has four buds and am anxiously awaiting their blooming!

Jane said...

Congratulations on planting California Poppy -- and the other medicinal flowers! I'm sure you'll love Calif. Poppy. I'm fascinated by the "gnome caps" that sheathe the blossoms, esp. as they start to come off. Wishing your C. Poppy good health and bloom!